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Dubliners

James Joyce

Important Quotations Explained

“The Dead”

Key Facts

1. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried.
   —“The Dead”

In the very last paragraph of “The Dead,” and hence the last paragraph of Dubliners, Gabriel gazes out of his hotel window, watching the falling snow and reflecting on his wife Gretta’s recent confession about her childhood love, Michael Furey. Previously in the story, Gabriel had been intoxicated and energized by Gretta’s preoccupied mood, which reminded him of their courtship, but her outburst of sobbing undermines his self-assurance. This quiet moment of contemplation portrays Gabriel’s muted, hushed acceptance that he was not Gretta’s first love, and that in fact he has never felt love at all. The blanket of snow suggests this sense of numbness in Gabriel’s character—he is literally frigid to emotion—but also the commonality of this trait. The snow does not fall only outside of Gabriel’s window, but, as he envisions it, across the country, from the Harbor of Dublin in the east, to the south in Shannon, and to the west. In other words, everyone, everywhere, is as numb as he is.

In this image, Gabriel also contemplates his mortality, and how his living experience intersects with death and the dead. Snow falls everywhere in Ireland, including on the grave of Michael Furey, who has so recently entered his life. In his speech at his aunts’ party, Gabriel had called for the need to live one’s life without brooding over the memories of the dead, but here he realizes the futility of such divisions and the lack of feeling they expose in his character. Gretta cannot forget the pain of the dead in her life, and her acute suffering illustrates for Gabriel that the dead are very much a part of the lives around him, including his own. That Gabriel’s reflections occur in the nighttime adds to the significance of this quote. As he now broods over the dead, he hovers in that flickering state that separates the vibrancy of one daytime from the next. The darkness above the ground mirrors the darkness beneath the ground, where coffins of the dead rest.

2. He looked down the slope and, at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast.
    —“A Painful Case”

This quote from “A Painful Case” shows Mr. Duffy walking past the park near his home after he has learned of Mrs. Sinico’s death. He sees two lovers in the park. They are not specific people, but rather human figures that render the scene universal, and the sight reminds Mr. Duffy of his self-imposed exclusion from companionship. In the story, Mr. Duffy rebukes the intimate gestures of Mrs. Sinico, only to realize here, after her death, how potentially life-changing they could have been. At the same time, the language of this quote articulates Mr. Duffy’s relentless spite for such physical expression—it is fleshly and secretive, something that happens in the shadows. This moment enacts a cycle of life and death that echoes throughout Dubliners: seeing the living, physical evidence of love in two people leads Mr. Duffy to think of the dead, of Mrs. Sinico, and then to reflect on his own existence. Mr. Duffy’s circular thoughts recall the obsessive routines and daily procedures that comprise his life and that make no space for the intimate sharing of love.

The imagery of eating in this quote suggests the importance of reciprocity and union that is so absent in this story. The physical act of eating is an activity that Mr. Duffy attempts to externalize and control. Yet Mr. Duffy must gnaw on his rectitude because he has nothing else and because his rectitude is the root of his exclusion. In living in such a restrained way, including his clockwork, solitary meals at the same establishments, he cannot tolerate the change that love harbors or the emotional output, often so uncontrollable, that it demands. As a result, Mr. Duffy must watch others feast and share in the consumption of the many things the world has to offer, while he remains alone.

3. I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.
    —“Araby”

In this quote, the young boy of “Araby” has just spoken with Mangan’s sister, and now finds himself entirely uninterested and bored by the demands of the classroom. Instead, he thinks of Mangan’s sister, of the upcoming bazaar, and of anything but what rests before him. This scene forecasts the boy’s future frustration with the tedious details that foil his desires, and it also illustrates the boy’s struggle to define himself as an adult, even in the space of the classroom structured as a hierarchy between master and student. Just as mundane lessons obstruct the boy’s thoughts, by the end of the story everyday delays undermine his hopes to purchase something for Mangan’s sister at the bazaar. In both cases, monotony prevents the boy from fulfilling his desires.

This scene articulates the boy’s navigation between childhood and adulthood. He sees the routine boredom of school as child’s play—it is easy, unengaging, and repetitive. Desire, on the other hand, is inspirational and liberating. His thoughts, after all, wander everywhere, rather than remain fixed to the place they should be. Yearning for the freedom of adulthood, the boy remains chained to the predictability of childhood. The irony underpinning the word idle reflects the hypocrisy of this situation, and as such forms one of the moments in the narrative when the subject’s voice speaks through the detached third person. What exactly, the passage asks, is idle about excited desire? Idle activity, rather, defines the activity in school, and thus childhood.

4. He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room of the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves.
    —“A Little Cloud”

In this quote from the beginning of “A Little Cloud,” Little Chandler sits in his office, waiting for the workday to conclude so he can meet with Gallaher, his old friend. As he thinks about Gallaher’s successes as a London newspaper writer, Little Chandler begins to reflect on his own career as a writer. Though he works as a clerk, a job in which writing plays a large part, Little Chandler aspires to be a poet—a writer whose material is human emotion, not drudgery. In this passage, however, Little Chandler dejectedly accepts that such aspirations will never materialize. He has the books, but none of the passionate drive to produce one of his own. The books in the quote, in turn, serve as emblems of Little Chandler’s poetic desires. They are present and within reach, but his temerity and hesitation prevent him from pulling them from the shelf. His inability to read to his wife also hints at the contradictory role of marriage in his life: it acts as an inhibitor rather than an encouragement to fulfilling his desires. The final moments of the story confirm this antagonism. Little Chandler musters the courage to read some poetry to himself, but his wife’s entry crushes his reverie and makes him feel remorseful for his actions.

The symbolic setting of this passage underscores the competing forces in Little Chandler’s life. He wishes to live and write poetically, but does so in the confines of an office space. The imagined presence of the books, juxtaposed with Little Chandler’s surroundings, highlights the contrast between his grandiose dreams and the mundane reality that envelops him. Little Chandler’s wandering mind evokes the escapist leanings of so many of the characters in Dubliners, though his reality at least mimics his dreams. That is, Little Chandler earns his living in a pallid version of the same career about which he fantasizes.

5. They thought they had only a girl to deal with and that, therefore, they could ride roughshod over her. But she would show them their mistake. They wouldn’t have dared to have treated her like that if she had been a man. But she would see that her daughter got her rights: she wouldn’t be fooled.
    —“A Mother”

From “A Mother,” this quote reveals the thoughts of Mrs. Kearney toward the end of the final concert in which her daughter, Kathleen, is scheduled to perform. When she agreed to let her daughter participate, Mrs. Kearney arranged a contract in which the organizers agreed to pay Kathleen for three performances. With the second performance cancelled and the third nearly finished, Mrs. Kearney, in the passages before this one, has pursued the organizers of the concert, reminding them that Kathleen must be paid in full despite the changes. Here she expresses her determination in seeing the contract fulfilled—a determination that fixates on the gendered context of the situation. All of the organizers, who have been dodging Mrs. Kearney’s inquires, are men. As such, Mrs. Kearney sees her treatment as biased and manipulative. That Mrs. Kearney wants to “show” the men their erred judgment of her fits with Mrs. Kearney’s concerns with appearance and performance in the story. Following up with the agreement of the contract isn’t enough—she must publicly point out their mistake.

The parallel construction of this quote illustrates on a formal level a confrontational, competitive approach that both bolsters and weakens Mrs. Kearney’s quest. The first sentence begins with “they,” followed by a sentence that begins with “but she.” This move from the critiqued party of men to Mrs. Kearney, a move repeated in the third and fourth sentences, evokes Mrs. Kearney’s defensive mindset. “They” may do this, “but she” will counter. Such antagonism acts as a rallying cry for Mrs. Kearney, yet it also serves to undercut sympathy for her character. The repeated call for revenge highlights Mrs. Kearney’s self-concern that overrides concern for Kathleen. As the progression of the quote indicates, first Mrs. Kearney will valorize herself, and then she will be sure that Kathleen gets paid. Nowhere, however, does the reader hear Kathleen’s voice.

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Double Meaning in The Boarding House

by Nethraprasad, February 09, 2013

"She knew he had a good screw for one thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by."
I think this contains a double meaning which shows clever use of language by James Joyce.

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7 out of 21 people found this helpful

The Dead

by kikoy777, July 18, 2013

Good analysis to a very complex piece or writing!

The Boy

by Jumiry, August 23, 2013

The anonymity of the boy is suggestive of the overall theme of the story, the insignificance of the individual in the larger society. The boy is unnamed because as the story demonstrates in any number of ways, he is unimportant. He lives with relatives who are not his parents which suggests a problem; it is likely the parents have made the crossing and are not yet established to bring the child over, though another possibility is that they have died as a result of the harshness of Irish life. Other suggestions of insignificance include the i... Read more

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134 out of 142 people found this helpful

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